Holy Family Centre in Ofcolaco, Limpopo Privince, South Africa is hosting two Palms Volunteers -Carmel Lawry, an experienced health care professional from Melbourne, and Louisa Cataldo, a passionate teacher and musician from Sydney. Working on different ‘front lines’ both women are helping to rebuild life and hope in a region devastated by poverty, abuse, civil unrest and disease. Carmel writes.
Well I am back at Holy Family Care Centre in Ofcolaco South Africa and already three months have flown by.
There have been many changes since I left in 2012. Around half of the 70 children I still know which has made it easier for me but sad for those children as it has not be possible to reunite them with family due to a variety of circumstances. Currently the children are on school holidays. In the past at least half the children have returned to a family member for the holidays but these holidays most of the children are here. This is a clear indication that the circumstances which these children are from are dire and even holidays are not possible.
This placement I am focusing on outreach work. Fortunately this plan seems to be coming together as the home is finally being allocated a fulltime social worker. We have begun to work together and our aim is threefold: to locate and reunite children with relatives, to provide resources that can help families under extreme poverty to reunite and thirdly to follow-up on children who have been reunited to ensure that they are managing. The social worker is also able to provide individual education and couselling to the children. Social workers are stretched because of a lack of resources – around 30 social workers in our area share three cars so even to get to villages to locate and talk to relatives of the children is very difficult. By having our own social worker we are fortunate to be able to provide transport and plan and prioritise our work.
There has also been a change in personnel as some of the OLSH sisters have returned home or moved to different areas of work. Building works have occurred over the past five years improving the living and working conditions of the staff and children and the ongoing efforts of capacity building is still a major focus. The employment of local people is very important for Holy Family to function. The manager is from a local village and is being supported to study towards relevant qualifications. A new position of an administration assistant is filled by a local women and she is also supported in studying. A local auxillary nurse is now employed 4 days a week to care for the children’s health needs. Employing local people in key positions is empowering, creates better relationships and helps the children to maintain language and cultural norms. The staff are able to mentor the children and share in their cultural and traditional way of life. Volunteers also benefit through cultural exchanges and only today one of the carers dealt with three children who were fighting – she was able to understand the root of the problem and teach them at the same time about respect and that “beating” each other is not the answer.
These lessons are so important because many of the children come from violent situations of physical and sexual abuse.
I look forward to the challenges and joys in the future at Holy Family Care Centre. Best wishes to you all and thankyou for your continued support.
Yesterday, my mission here at Holy Family was the most rewarding it has ever been so far. It is certainly not the first time that I have played a part in teaching children how to read. But when the child in question is 14 years old and in grade 3 (instead of grade 7 or 8), it is extra special. “Em small” the girl in the photo reading, has been learning the English alphabet with both myself and Sr Jeanne. Last night, she read her very first book in English. The significance of this achievement for Em small is huge: her subjects at school are taught in English and she has to pass the subject of English if she is to graduate into grade 4. Whether this happens is another story, but last night, Em did not want to leave the classroom and the pride she displayed in herself was beautiful. Actually, instilling pride in the children here is a wonderful thing to be able to do- it is a blessing. We read several books together, and it struck me how the books we read were the same that children in kindergarten are reading right now in Australia. It made me reflect on the many privileges we and our children have- we don’t stop to think about it very often. Em will continue to read with Sister and myself. Our aim is to get as many of the children as we can to a grade 1-2 reading level- it takes months, but already we have seen some fantastic progress.
In general news, myself and Carmel the nurse have moved into the convent for the next three months, as we have made way for three volunteers form Ireland. One of them is a teacher and will be helping my self and Sr Jeanne. Yes, we are living with the sisters and as such living in “community”. It is generous of them to open their living space with us, and it is nice to be more involved with them too. Any way, we are confident our corrupt ways won’t interfere too much…….or at least we hope so.
I have also included a photo of “Zoe” a stray rottweiler cross probably no more than year old who has clearly been mistreated. Well, Zoe came to the right place…. she fits in perfectly as Sr Sally says. I was asked if I would like to look after her, and she has the most beautiful temperament I have ever seen in a dog, I was really happy to, and consequently, Zoe is my new best friend. The photo was taken in the church at Pentecost- she has a tongue of the Holy Spirit stuck on her head!!
Finally, the 16th of June was Youth Day in South Africa and a Public Holiday, remembering the hundreds of children that were shot at/killed or imprisoned by the Police in 1976 as they protested about their lack of education and freedom under Apartheid. It is a day which also celebrated hope and freedom and the future for all the children of SA. We all had a wonderful day of celebration.
The weather here is glorious with average temps of 24- 26/27 during the day- you only know it is winter at night and early morning, and only a few cold days so far- it’s really like Spring in Sydney.
Hope you are all well,